An article from Do or Die Issue 10. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 167-168.
Over the last year, environmentalists and members of the community of Mindo (north-west Ecuador) occupied tree-sit platforms in the Mindo-Nambillo cloud forest, blocking construction of the 300 mile long OCP oil pipeline. This is the first action of its kind in Latin America. It's hard to imagine how bad the conditions have been for the tree-sitters, in the middle of the Amazonian rainy season!
Environmentalist groups have also been pressuring the German province of Westfalia, owner of the Westdeutsche Landesbank, which has invested $900 million in the pipeline and controls 43% of the shares. In Germany, the bank doesn't want to be associated with images of bulldozers running over environmentalists or with heavy-handed evictions. (British readers of Do or Die might be interested to know that Westdeutsche Landesbank is also funding the rebuilding of the national stadium at Wembley...)
The treesits were part of a long campaign of demonstrations to stop heavy machinery and OCP workers from entering the forest, to protect its diversity and the community's source of water. Many local people are enraged that the pipeline project will cause grave damage but give them the bare minimum in compensation. Similar to Nigeria's Ogoni, their region has yielded $60 billion in oil over the last twenty years, while 90% of its population continue to live in poverty. A general strike lasting eleven days was declared in late February 2002, demanding more social works for the region. 60 oil wells were seized, cutting national production by 20%. People set fire to cars and buildings, including the offices of the electricity company. With the all-important oil supplies being threatened, the government moved quickly to repress the strike. A state of emergency was imposed by the army, who even ordered the capture of the local mayor, and any sympathetic radio stations were shut down. The strikers paid a heavy price for their defiance. Two children and two adults were killed by the soldiers and more than three hundred were wounded, as helicopters rained down tear gas on the population.
But even this onslaught did not intimidate local people into submission. After tree-sitters were arrested in March 2002, as described in the account below, the main highway to Quito (Ecuador's capital city) was blockaded in solidarity. Two OCP trailers carrying pipeline tubes were even 'confiscated' and cheekily paraded around the town square, having first been painted with the slogan "OCP out of Mindo".
In June 2002 there were more state attacks - this time on farmers who were blockading OCP machinery along various sections of route near jungle town of Lago Agrio. 100 small farms have so far been affected by the pipeline, with 55% of farmers saying they have been pressured or threatened by OCP/army strong arm tactics to try to force them to allow work on their land and accept derisory compensation rates. Farmers were beaten and tear gassed by police and soldiers.
In November 2002, 100 Mindo residents, students and members of the Italian Green Party occupied an OCP work site inside the Cloudforest Reserve. They blocked workers and machinery from entering, and were tear gassed in skirmishes with military police. Two local residents and an Italian Green Party member went up to the ridgeline, to the community-owned property 'Guarumos', where OCP is illegally working without permission from the community. All three were arrested and taken to Quito detention centre.
The Mindo-Nambillo forest is a high-altitude cloudforest and the first stage of the Amazonian rainforest. It is home to more than 450 species of birds, 46 of which are already threatened with extinction. As usual with this kind of mega-project, OCP's research on its social/environmental impact was based on conveniently incorrect data, enabling them to take the pipeline through the shorter route between the Amazonian rainforest and the port of Balao.
OCP is a consortium of different companies with a single aim: oil exploitation by any means. One of the main shareholders is the Spanish oil company Repsol, who are also involved in a 400 km gas pipeline in Bolivia that crosses the territories of the Guaraní and Wenhayeek Natives without their consent.
Ecuador's oil production will have to be doubled in order to fill the pipeline, requiring a 5 year, $2 billion investment in new refineries and infrastructure for oil extraction, transport and manufacturing. It is likely that millions of hectares of hitherto intact rainforest and Indigenous territory will be opened up to feed the pipeline's voracious appetite, with the usual devastating consequences. But none of this matters for the companies and the Ecuadorian state; for them it's a goldrush, and they are prepared to kill in order to get it built.
Oil extraction has severely damaged Ecuador since the 1970s, when major oil reserves were first found in its Amazonian rainforest, swiftly becoming the biggest source of income for the country. This has had a dire impact on the environment and on the Indigenous and Mestizo (mixed-race) communities who live in the sacrifice zones.
Construction of the pipeline, which was due for completion in June 2003, is currently suspended. The consortium reported in late 2002 that they are six months behind and more than $200 million over budget. The project's financiers also face international protests after a three day summit of 40 NGOs in December 2002. These groups vowed to step up the campaign against the OCP consortium in the home countries of the consortium members: Canada, US, Spain, Argentina, Germany, US, Italy and UK.
President Tackles Clown Menace
Opponents of the pipeline made themselves an enemy in the shape of Ecuador's ex-President Gustavo Noboa. He publicly threatened Acción Ecológica (Friends of the Earth Ecuador), accusing the organization of being hypocritical and said: "In the past we knew who they were; we knew they were the radical left; now they call themselves greens, ecologists..." He shouted that he would declare war on the ecologists, that he would fight them "trench by trench" and that he would not allow "four clowns to fuck the country".
Source: World Rainforest Movement bulletin No. 46, May 2001